Donald Trump's trademark bluster reached new heights on Friday, when he tweeted that U.S. forces were “fully in place, locked and loaded” for an attack on North Korea but a top Pentagon Korea official in the Obama administration says that the president’s claim is not just dangerous, it's false.
The official, who spoke to Newsweek on the condition of anonymity, said war game scenarios conducted by the U.S. and South Korea indicated that substantial time would be required to move military assets for an attack on the state.
The U.S. was positioned to defend an attack, but not to launch one at short notice without substantial consequences, the official added.
An attack would require more military assets than the U.S. currently has stationed in the Korean peninsula and east Asia. On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed to Vox that no such redeployment had taken place.
The tweet came amid a sharp escalation in tensions between the U.S. and the rogue state, with Pyongyang having earlier threatened to launch missiles at the Pacific island of Guam, where there is a U.S. military base. Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” in return.
Critics say the tweet sharply increases the likelihood of a conflict between the countries, as North Korea could misinterpret Trump's rhetoric and U.S. military maneuvers as signs of impending invasion and launch a preemptive attack.
Though dwarfed by the U.S.’ military, North Korea’s is still one of the largest in the world, with 1.2 million active service members, nuclear weapons, and tens of thousand of artillery at its disposal. The U.S. would require the deployment of ground troops to boost South Korean forces in the region, as well as aircraft carriers to take on North Korea’s navy and air force.
Aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, left the region in June, after April deployment.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the Trump administration had been involved for months in back channel diplomatic negotiations with North Korea, vital if Trump's rhetoric is not to lead to a military clash.
Former State Department official Joel S. Wit, the founder of 38 North, a website that analyzes North Korea, told Politico that Trump’s claims risked undermining diplomatic efforts.
The president’s public comments "undermine anyone in Pyongyang who’s interested in seeing if there’s something to be gained in a dialogue with the United States," he said.
“The hardliners in Washington reinforce the hardliners in Pyongyang, who in turn reinforce the hardliners in Washington."